I wouldn’t be a true liberal if I didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. On Dec. 23, President Donald Trump signed a $1.4 trillion spending package that included a provision raising the legal age to buy tobacco products in the United States from 18 to 21, effective immediately, the Associated Press reported.
Though this change really snuck up on me — and apparently a lot of other people, too, if Facebook is any indication — I’m pleased with it.
In my high school days, kids would hang out on the corner just outside the school’s property line and wait for an 18-year-old to bring back sweet, sweet nicotine. As someone who had to walk by there — someone with an ex-police officer for a father — it was certainly unfortunate that I passed through a cloud of smoke when leaving school most days.
Now, with this new provision, parents can rejoice. Our teenagers are now safe from nicotine until their college days. Hooray!
The stipulation’s speedy approval was likely due to the hubbub about e-cigarettes and vaping that bubbled up earlier this year. Surprisingly, politicians on both sides of the aisle were willing to jump on the anti-vaping bandwagon, and this new legislation specifies that vaping products also are to be sold to people 21 and older.
The campaign to raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21 has been going on much longer than that, though, so this is a big win for its supporters. Before the law was passed, 19 states and more than 500 cities and towns already required people to be over 21 to purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes.
But, for me, the biggest question still remains: Why don’t we go all the way?
Of course, most of us — save for my parents, who swear they’re saints — have used tobacco products before. When you’re older than 18 but younger than 21, hookah lounges are really the only place you can go on a Friday night, so can you blame us?
Anyone who’s been educated in the U.S. knows all about the horror stories of tobacco use. I remember in elementary school we were asked to write postcards to loved ones begging them not to smoke. I’m pretty sure my then 16-year-old sister lit her postcard on fire.
To make things more confusing, we can all think of someone who has died from smoking-related causes. COPD, emphysema or cancer. You name it, we’ve watched a loved one die from it. It’s painful, traumatic and, most importantly of all, entirely preventable. Yet the CDC reports 480,000 people die every year in the U.S. from cigarette use and in 2016, one in 14 women reported smoking during pregnancy, despite a plethora of potential birth defects.
So why do we keep smoking? And, more importantly, why is it still legal to smoke?
While I applaud the work Congress did to raise the purchasing age, I still think more needs to be done. I know I should be giving space for Darwin’s theory to take care of whom it must, but at the end of the day, cigarette use is one of those instances in which common sense seems to have been abandoned.
Law or no, let’s add “quit smoking” to our New Year’s resolutions for 2020.
Alysen Boston is a Washington State University graduate, freelance journalist and co-host of the podcast All Over the Map with Ally and Ian. She’s from Baltimore but has called the Palouse home since 2014.